Universities shouldn't provide prayer spaces - Macleans.ca

Universities shouldn’t provide prayer spaces

Prof. Pettigrew on religious accommodation


Every Friday, my university cafeteria serves fish and chips. I’m not a big fan of fish and chips myself, so I don’t particularly look forward to it, but it does always make me pause and recall the ways in which even generally secular universities often hold on to their religious pasts.

The fish and chips, of course, descend from the days when Catholics were expected to avoid meat on Fridays, itself a remnant from older practices of fasting ahead of the sabbath.

Even as one whose views of religion at universities ranges from the skeptical to the hostile, I can’t get too worked up over these last vestiges of religion in public funded schools. I doubt very many people even realize why they serve fish on Fridays and, someday, they likely won’t.

But tolerating the not-quite vanished traditions of a dying tradition is one thing: encouraging faith-based observances at a public university is quite another.

And so it was with some concern that I noted that the University of Regina has gone so far as to install special sinks to facilitate the washing that observant Muslims do in preparation for their prayers. U of R has also created a dedicated prayer space for Muslims as well.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, requests by Muslim students for dedicated prayers spaces on campus have met with mixed reactions. According to this report from the Montreal Gazette, at least one professor “goes against the principle of secularism in schools,” while others contend that that such spaces simply meet students needs, just as the cafeteria meets a need for food.

And that’s where they lose me. Religion is not like food. Every human being requires nutrition. No human being requires religion. Indeed, as I have argued in this space before, religion, which puts premium on faith and acceptance of dogma, tends to run contrary to the primary function of a university education, which is to promote critical and independent thinking. In short, a university education should be challenging—even undermining—your religious convictions, not encouraging them.

There are middle grounds, of course: have a religious centre but have it funded by outside sources. Such compromises are attractive, but still suffer from the basic problem that dedicated university spaces for religion still serve as endorsements of those religions. And, indeed, of religion in general.

Centuries of skeptical and scientific thought have finally seen us nearly climb out of the dark gorge dominated by antiquated scriptures and hidebound clerics. We must not let a misguided conception of tolerance allow religion to regain its foothold and send us back down into the chasm of ignorance and superstition.

Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.


Universities shouldn’t provide prayer spaces

  1. Religion has no place in the secular universities. Religion has become and was a business devised by intelligent people in every society to control people and also to help business make money.
    Even the priests in every religion were basically unemployable smart persons who lived off the people in the name of religion. Even today most people who preach and are on TV do so to make money and fool people .

  2. Mr. Pettigrew, I think there should be places to pray or prayer rooms for students. In light of university life today I ask why not?
    There is a place for God anywhere you happin to be, religion on the other hand is up to the individual. You can be religious and still not have God in your life. That said ,what having a prayer room amounts to is a well rounded individual with good christian values and prayer rooms can’t hurt. Why not remove the bars and ban co-ed dorms .I say they have no place in educational studies. Allowing liquor and not God, I think not!!!

    • Did you read any of Pettigrew’s points? He justifies why there should not be prayer rooms in universities. Believe what ever false superstitious crap you want but having a room dedicated to praying in university is like vaticans committing genocide on all athiests; religion does not belong in universities and when you have a prayer room it only seeks to create conflict and spread the idiocracy that one such as yourself believe in. Pray to what ever retarded “god” you want, just dont do it around others who are smart enough to avoid such things.

      House – If you could reason with religious people, there would be no religious people.

    • If all you can come up with is “it can’t hurt”, it’s pretty weak. It can hurt… religion keeps people from independent and critical thought. Regurgitated ideas will do litle, if anything, to make our world a better place. Care to go to parts of the Middle East about now?

  3. I agree that universities are no place for religion. Installing special sinks and providing prayer areas for muslims is upsetting on many levels. Who paid the $40,000 to install these special sinks? Religion has no place in a public learning institution. Are we to accommodate every global religion at the U of R? Where do you draw the line? Accommodations would not be made for religions other than islam in muslim countries.

  4. You got that right, Todd. It’s time Canada got rid of its misguided concept of tolerance. If you must have space for religious needs find it at home, build a your own or move to a country dominated by religion.

  5. This is really arrogant.

    As if providing prayer space is “encouraging” those things some people consider to be sacred. Most prayer spaces are multifaith, or can be used for meditation.

    What kind of balancing act are you asking for? So you want people to enrich themselves by coming to your school but when they are impelled by their beliefs to pray, as many people are inclined to do, you would rather they do what exactly? Leave school grounds with the message that you don’t have the time or money to provide a space (publicly funded or otherwise) for them to pray without being harangued by human garbage?

    I’m all for a university challenging beliefs but despite everything you shouldn’t give them the impression they are foolish for what they believe. Give a good argument for why they shouldn’t believe if you’re so inclined. Don’t just expect them to leave their rosaries and prayer mats at home. These are rich traditions, frankly your very passé New Atheist sentiments are more unwelcome in the ivory tower then any person of faith I’ve met.

  6. Keep pushing God completely out of the public sphere professor, and watch the hoeeible things exploding in the same Godforsaken sphere like shootings and explosions and on and on….and they will cry ” Why, if there is a god, why do these horrible things happen, or why does he allow it?”
    Well, just could be His protection and blessings were not sought after.

    • Another idiotic religious kid who has 0 logic and 0 reasoning skills. Superstitious people like you wont exist in 50 years.

    • OMG, have you been brainwashed! Think for yourself, man, and quit parroting and regurgitiating what your masters have taught you. Think!

  7. While I disagree that religion should be entirely pushed out of university space, that special facilities are being requested and dedicated to a specific faith (in this case, Islam) really should not be going on. A multi-faith area for prayer or worship is fine, and should satisfy any students or staff when they are unable or unwilling to get to their respective places of worship. University resources for a secular, public university should not be lent towards any specific faith.

  8. Since WHEN does anyone require a prayer FACILITY?

    Just pray wherever you are, unless you’re driving a car or something… this is bologne!

  9. I agree that the primary function of the university is to foster critical and independent thought. But this includes pondering deep questions such as who we are and the meaning and purpose of our existence. Science has certainly not resolved the question of God. Time and space came into existence in a finite moment with the Big Bang. The chance that the values of all the physical constants needed to result in a stable universe capable of sustaining life is almost infinitesimal.
    To suggest that the natural world was the result of mere accident or deterministic principles is not based on evidence and is less reasonable than to suggest a cause outside of nature, which we call God.
    Science is not a complete framework for understanding human beings and the universe. The existence of God is not unreasonable. To avoid the “ignorance” which the good prof. laments, a university must shun closed, intolerant and ideologically based rhetoric and foster open minds, encouraging thoughtful and rational inquiry into the profound questions which matter most.

    • There is a big difference between “pondering deep questions such as who we are and the meaning and purpose of our existence” and the blind faith in historical figures, rituals and rules that characterize the religious.

  10. After reading the comments posted by the atheists here, I can’t help but notice how closed-minded and dogmatic they sound in their beliefs. They sound just like what they accuse others of being.

  11. It has been said by many in the past (in one way or another, Albert Einstein, Orison Swett Marden, Dorothy Height) that the strength of a position may be measured by the ferocity of the opposition (paraphrase).

    What does that say about the position of religion (Christian religion, in particular)?

    If critical thought and logic are what is sought, why does religion pose such a threat? Is not critical thought and logic strong enough to stand on their own without concerning themselves with such ‘silly notions’ as dogmatic religions conviction?

    Why do the towering pillars of academic society today seem to convulse at the very mention of Jesus, God, or prayer? Do those three ideas actually post a threat worth responding to? If as has been suggested, in 50 years, those who ‘believe’ in these notions will all die off or reject such ‘trivial and misguided’ thinking… why do we have to respond with such venom? Why not just let it die off?


    Logic does not debunk religious thinking… and critical thought does not condemn Christianity… and religious dogma is actually founded upon strong reason and evidence.

    If that is the case, the response of Mr. Pettigrew and others makes complete sense. Their position is in grave danger, and only the most energetic effort may save them.

    If however, the above statement is not correct, I am truly puzzled why individuals of Mr. Pettigrew’s intellectual capability would bother to waste their time dealing with the ‘silly notions’ of those who must only be the plebeians of today’s intellectual society. Is it not a simple matter to convince all who find themselves at an institution of higher learning and critical thinking of truth of his position?

  12. I think you’re operating under the mistake belief that religion is against education. Religion does not contradict education. In fact, many areas of science were founded by religious people who wished to study the world as part of their worship, rather than “skeptics,” as you claim. You imply that religious people are less intelligent, which is frankly bigoted. It’s also not like what Hitler claimed about Jews. That was based more on race than religion, but there are very similar undertones which scare me.

    To claim that religion is unnecessary is extremely small minded. That’s like claiming that art is unnecessary, and therefore should be banned from public spaces. In fact, you are likely operating under your own religion of naturalism! Nature is all there is, all there was, and all there ever will be, right? If you don’t want to call it a religion that’s fine, call it a philosophy but it doesn’t really make a difference. You have your own beliefs, and you want to force them on others. I don’t think that’s acceptable in any way.